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Reviewed by:
  • Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry
  • John B. Van Sickle
Marco Fantuzzi and Richard Hunter. Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. x, 511. $120.00. ISBN 0-521-83511-9.

Revised and translated from Muse e Modelli: la poesia ellenistica da Alessandro Magno ad Augusto (Roma: Laterza, 2002), this book adds, inter alia, the timely and illuminating “Posidippus and the ideology of kingship” to the growing discussion of our new Hellenistic poetry. Any reader must welcome the polyglot bibliography and the expert, generous, and lively engagement with texts and contexts that recalls and synthesizes scholarly dialogues, inviting more to come. The authors intend to get beyond modern notions of “art for art’s sake” and restore Hellenistic poetry to “its own intellectual and cultural context.”

They shun terms like comprehensive or handbook and they aver that “Hellenistic poetry has suffered from lazy, (un)critical generalisations”—an accusation amplified with the trope, “mud sticks,” protesting how scholars get fixed on nostrums, familiar paradigms, and critical pabulum. As a remedy, the authors declare that “one must begin with the particularity of each poet and each poetic mode.”

In “Performance and genre,” Fantuzzi documents shifts in social contexts that made classical genres obsolete and the rise of readership as a leading form of reception. He closely analyzes hexameter styles of Callimachus and Theocritus, while downgrading play and cross-breeding (Kreuzung) of genres as poetic programs. In “The aetiology of Callimachus’ Aitia,” Hunter offers a [End Page 88] sensitive and theoretically informed focus on paradoxes inherent in etiological thought, weaving together episodes of Callimachus’ Aetia, bringing out their poetological import. In his chapter on “The Argonautica and epic tradition” Hunter theorizes fame (kleos), locating the poem in the epic tradition, not without valuable cross reference to philosophy and rhetoric, discourses of power, although scanting etiology as master.

Fantuzzi sketches Theocritus’ coherent bucolic world in “Theocritus and the bucolic genre,” although he skirts Theocritus’ grounding in epos. The bibliography is remarkable. Fantuzzi, however, slights “particularity” at the risk of “lazy generalisations,” e.g., calling all bucolic characters “shepherds.” Thus Comatas is “a mythical shepherd” on 136–7, and more correctly a “goatherd” at 149 n. 64, which muddies one of Theocritus’ deepest poetologi-cal springs, and misses the subtle ironies contrasting aipolikon, poimenikon, boukolikon—the metapoetic points scored through rustic differences (cattle, sheep, goats). Rem tene! Coge pecus!

“Epic in a minor key” is a useful introduction to its period, providing background for Roman fate of epos. In “The style of Hellenistic epic,” which is generous in how Callimachus and Theocritus relate to Homer, Fantuzzi rises to one of most telling moments in the book, how Apollonius, through calibrated intertexts, constructs a “rustic epic” with Jason as a sort of georgic hero. Fantuzzi’s chapter on “The epigram” is an indispensable introduction— a handbook in the best sense.

In “The languages of praise,” Hunter sets Callimachus’ Hymns both in and against the “lingua franca” of Homeric hymns, interweaving Hesiod and themes “of both Greek and Egyptian divine praise.” Hunter also, in “Hel-lenistic drama,” after relating new comedy to its contemporary society and philosophy, and comparing its legacy at Rome and roots in Attic tragedy, caps the chapter with an illuminating frame for Lycophron’s dark discourse.

Their jointly written “Roman epilogue” contains “A critical silence” (Hunter), which carefully weighs evidence for development of critical categories later to be codified and reduced to the dichotomy of ingenium vs. ars. “Philodemus and Hellenistic Poetics” (Fantuzzi) judiciously orders tangled threads in embryonic genre theory. In “GRAECIA CAPTA,” Hunter frames discourse—“writing of literature in Latin involved creative engagement with the Greek heritage”—and personifies “Latin poetry” as aware “of its place in its tradition” and thus “inherently ‘belated,’ ” and so theoretically akin to “elite Greek poetry of the third century, . . . driven by the creative energies and ironies which belatedness confers.” The ensuing argument marshals rich detail and conceptual adventure, e.g., by suggesting that “elaborate interlocking structure was one of those features . . . which now assumed new importance as poetic signifiers.” Yet a further conceptual reach would more fully frame Alexandrian poets as driven by engagement in defining Ptolemaic power...


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pp. 88-89
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